IRAQ: Civilian Traffic at Baghdad Airport Set to Resume

A two-day stoppage by security firm Global Strategies Group contracted to scure Iraq's major airport is expected to end despite an ongoing payment dispute with the ministry of transportion.

Civilian air traffic at Baghdad's international airport is set to resume on Monday after a two-day stoppage of work by the foreign company in charge of security because of a commercial dispute with the ministry of transport.

The closure has raised concerns about how cash shortfalls and administrative chaos are hampering the Iraqi government's ability to provide public services, particularly when much of the vital security work is down by international private firms.

"We are going back on post at 5pm local time '' said Giles Morgan, spokesman for Global Strategies Group, the London-based firm which has managed airport security since June.

Global will give the green light to the civil aviation authority to resume civilian operations as soon as it verifies that security was not breached over the weekend, when the airport was guarded by the US military, Mr Morgan said.

However, the commercial dispute is unresolved, said the head of the firm's regional operation.

Global has not been paid since February, said Paul Simington, director of Global (Middle East), and has not been able to get a meeting with key officials even though the company has not worked under a signed contract since October.

"The main reason why did this, we did it primarily to raise some visibility and to get the Iraqis to prioritise ... to get someone with authority to sit down across the table with us,'' he said.

An official from the ministry of transport confirmed that the airport would reopen, but was not able to provide further comment.

The dispute comes against a background of financial shortfalls, administrative disarray, and concerns about corruption in Iraq's new government.

Iraqi ministries have been short of funds following an unexpected drop in oil revenue, the source of around 90 percent of government income, earlier this year. Ministerial decisions also came to a halt during the three months after January 30 elections, in which the winning Shia- and Kurdish-led blocs struggled to put together a government.

In addition, the new government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has been reviewing contracts signed by the outgoing government of Iyad Allawi, which it accuses of wasting or misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds.

Investigations have focussed on the ministry of transport, and Iraqi government officials say that an arrest warrant was issued for former minister Luai Hatem al-Eris.

The airport closure follows a particularly violent weekend, in which 30 people were killed on Sunday by separate suicide attacks on a police station and a military base in northern Iraq.

In other incidents, a suicide bomber followed by five carloads of gunmen attacked a police station in the central Iraqi town of Samarra on Saturday, while guerillas captured and executed eight policemen in their offices in the western town of Ramadi on Friday.

Also, US military sources have confirmed at least four dead, with another two missing and confirmed dead, in a Thursday ambush of a US Marine convoy in Fallujah.

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